Picky Eaters

By: Dr. Sarah Evins

Do you have a picky eater at home? It can be frustrating when your child’s favorite food yesterday ends up on the floor repeatedly today (especially when you just restocked at Costco) or when they suddenly refuse to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, noodles, or French fries. You are not alone! This is a NORMAL part of being a toddler as they establish independence, and like other phases that they will go through, it will pass! Here are some tips to help navigate these more selective phases:

  • Provide healthy options and allow your child to choose if and how much they eat.
  • Avoid pressuring your child to eat. This includes offering rewards for eating certain foods. This helps your child learn to listen to their body and what it needs.
  • Create a consistent meal and snack schedule and limit snacks or drinks other than water outside of scheduled eating times to help make sure they are hungry at mealtime. Include healthy proteins and fats in snacks (such as adding peanut butter, cheese, hummus, or yogurt) to help your child last until the next mealtime.
  • Eat meals together and cook the same meal for the whole family. This way, you can model appropriate behaviors and eating healthy foods. Kids are also more likely to try something if they see others eating it.
  • Make mealtime fun! You can add dips, provide options for sprinkles such as cheese or chia seeds, let them choose a fun utensil, or cut foods into fun shapes.
  • Involve your child in meal prep.
  • Offer a variety of new foods consistently. Always include at least one food you know your child will eat and one food they are learning to like. And be patient; it can take 15-20 exposures to consider trying a food!
  • Serve tiny portions to start, but allow seconds and thirds.
  • Try a “no-thank-you bowl. Your child can place any unwanted food in their no thank you bowl, helping to avoid any tantrums about the food being on the plate. This also has the added benefit of interacting with the food to move it to the no-thank-you bowl.
  • Minimize distractions by sitting at the table for as many meals and snacks as possible and turning off the TV or tablet.
  • Avoid labels. The more a child hears you call them a picky eater, the more they will start to identify as a picky eater, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Promote curiosity with new foods by asking about the color, shape, and texture or discussing their health benefits.

Remember that phases of selective eating are NORMAL, and it is okay for your child to have a bad day or a bad week. Stay calm, offer plenty of healthy options, and allow them to choose whether to eat or not. And most important of all, make sure to have fun together at mealtime!

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